Metaverse and NFTs were definitely the keywords of SXSW. This year’s edition of the conference was all about crypto and web3. Should we be worried or enthusiastic?
1. Lessons from the past
Many speakers shared the lessons of web2 and the damages that the current iteration of the internet caused, such as disinformation, increased divisions, screen addiction, and abusive behaviours, harming both our well-being and our democracies. It seems that the crowds and the speakers at SXSW have become disillusioned with web2 and especially social media platforms.
2. Artificial intelligence
Tristan Harris presented some use cases by GPT3 (an artificial intelligence provided by Open AI) that has now become able to understand what the user means and not only what he writes. This AI can write by itself an essay on the dangers of vaccines for instance, using real research but arranging it so that it underlines potential harms in a very credible way. This text can be produced in a matter of seconds and is almost indistinguishable from a piece written by a human. Tristan Harris insisted on the potential harm this kind of new generation of AI could do to news and information.
Amy Webb, the quantitative futurist also mentioned GPT3 in her “Emerging Tech Trends Report” and she stated on stage that we have come to a point where “AI can permanently alter our perception of reality”. She mentioned GAN (Generative Adversarial Networks) that are able to create real-life artificial images and videos and also talked about how AI can now determine your heart print by detecting micro movements in your body.
3. The announcement of the week
Mark Zuckerberg made a virtual apparition during the week as he didn’t travel to Austin this year. In his address, he announced that NFTs will soon be coming to Instagram, following his ambitious goal of turning Meta into a metaverse company.
4. Metaverse interoperability
If the metaverse does take off, we risk having to navigate between six or eight platforms and having to switch between our avatars, skins, profiles, digital wallets and communities. If there is no interoperability between metaverses, it might seriously delay mainstream adoption.
5. The promise of blockchain
Behind all the hype, the blockchain could be a revolutionary concept by bringing decentralisation to the web. Imagine having power, transparency and trust in the hands of everyone and not just for the half dozen companies that control the web today. Your data could finally be yours.
What exactly are DAOs? There are decentralised autonomous organisations built on the blockchain. There are new types of organisations with fair rules where power is distributed and have an open and democratic type of governance.
7. The challenge of inclusion
Early adopters of these technologies for now are mostly young, affluent men, they even have a new name: the “crypto bros”. But the benefits of web3 shouldn’t be left only to them. We have to figure out right now how to make the scene more diverse and more representative.
By the way, the festival saw the launch of Unicorn DAO, a community run by women for women (with Nadya Tolokonnikova from the Pussy Riot being one of the founders) that aims to challenge gender inequality in this space.
8. Some insightful quotes
"Without facts, we can't have truth. Without truth, we can’t have trust. And without trust, we can’t have a democracy.” (Maria Reesa, Filipino journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner)
"We don’t gather to escape, we gather to engage” (Priya Parker, author of "The Art of Gathering")
“Social media creates perception gaps. You get hit by double extreme voices. There are no moderates." (Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology).
To conclude, all speakers agree that the future of technology could become positive or negative depending on the orientation that citizens and governments allow and how transparent companies are forced to operate.